Having spent last academic year immersed in an action-research project of my own through my work on the teaching of writing as a Calderwood Fellow, I finished feeling very much like I had only begun a much longer journey. The Calderwood Fellowship for the Teaching of Writing really helped push me into a new direction in my career. The lead facilitator and primary investigator, University of Massachusetts – Boston Professor Denise Patmon, has long been a great a wonderful mentor, advocate and dear friend to me. Her guidnace and encouragement were and continue to be invaluable. Still, there were a number of aspects about Calderwood experience into which I wanted to dive deeper, including many of the readings I collected, as well as the design of my study.
Enter the South East Alaska Collaborative Classroom Research Massive Open Online Course, which is a mouthful and otherwise goes by SEACCR MOOC.
I started circling the same spaces as Professor Lee Graham sometime last year, during the MOOC MOOC, if I am not mistaken. Then some months back I got the privilege of meeting Professor Graham through my connection with the Flat Classroom Project, where I was honored to help advise on a developing project for some K-12 schools across the state of Alaska. Having followed her for awhile and spending a brief amount of time working together, I knew of her interest in MOOCs and projects that extend the reach of individual classrooms at the K-12 level and in higher education. So when I saw that she was conducting a MOOC on action research and that the timing of it was pretty good for the prospects of my participating, I was excited to join.
An Early Objective
My goal is really to refine my still growing understanding of action research, as well as prepare a new inquiry rooted in some of the work that I began last year. In some ways I am hoping that this experience will help me design another, better study that will deepen the constantly emerging understanding I have about writing instruction. I can already see that there is a lot of supportive material about methods, design, and more that I will find helpful in refocusing my efforts. Already I am enjoying the readings quite a bit. In fact, I have already shared the first one, “10 Things Every Educator Should Know About Research,” with a couple of colleagues.
Additionally, I am looking forward to working with Professor Graham again in a new capacity. What I know of her I like a lot. So, I am desperately hoping that I will be able to stay with the MOOC for the duration, which will be a challenge, but should dovetail with what I was already planning to do this year. I also hope that I can contribute to the mix of other students engaged in the MOOC too.
What is My Understanding of Action Research
On a fundamental level, I always want to flip the words around and say that action research is really research in action. It is the elbows deep, in the thick of it kind of research that teachers engage in right in their classroom. It is self-reflective and, while systematic, can be a bit messy. It is not necessarily the kind of narrow, control-study-tested idea that many people associate or think of as being the only form of legitimate research. It is both legitimate and more flexible as a concept, usually focusing on a smaller scale.
At the core, it is almost more about a disposition, an inquiry stance that a teacher possesses. It recognizes teachers as practitioners and begins with a problem or question that seeks an answer. Answers demand some action and application, but the process always raises more, new questions. It is in this way that action research is born of out of self-reflection, but not limited to it. Being systematic about the research, design, and data collection becomes essential to ensuring that the work is not limited to simply being a reflection. The goal is to be more methodical in an effort to become more critical about a particular problem which is linked, in some way, to a teacher’s own practice. Thus, action research may begin again, much like I expressed in the opening. It is a practice, like a doctor or lawyer, both noun and verb.